Another year, another 48-hour film challenge. Sure, there are others in Phoenix, the official ongoing series and the PFP-sponsored one, but the Almost Famous Film Festival is the real deal, always well-executed in every way.
Last year was a great experience, albeit one that I recall very little of. The whole thing is so fast and furious, it's tough to keep up. Of course, I remember the screening, a great event, and winning our first awards as Matter of Chance. AGTC and the impossibly complex plot and guerilla shooting at the public library. Totaling up 32 hours of actual work during the 48 hour period. Heck, the unused ideas from last year sparked many of the films to follow and ones currently in the works. Didn't we swear we would never do it again? Yet, here we are.
This time around, we again began very early, conceiving of film concepts that we would like to try out. All in all, there were about twenty ideas on the board. Many ideas, but most of them without any locations we could nail down in advance. Although we have gained much experience in the last twelve months, it felt to me like we didn't have anything solid, like we had no chance at following up on last year's effort. Brock, on the other hand, was uncharacteristically optimistic, playing the cheerleader role that I usually assume. "We've got it, no question," he would say with great conviction.
Friday at 6:30 the guidelines were announced: theme of mistaken identity, prop a plant being watered, line of dialog "I don't think this is going to work." As if that weren't enough, we wanted to self-impose additional guidelines so that a single film could qualify for both the A3F and the PFP's Dead of Winter film challenge. Fulfilling the PFP challenge would kill two birds with one stone, and, if well executed, get us a film screened during the Phoenix Film Festival. The additional guidelines were: genre of Suspense/Thriller/Mystery, prop of a pizza cutter, and the line "I need a line here." Come to think of it, maybe having both guidelines in mind was somewhat of blessing, in that it led us down a hard and fast path towards the film we were about to make.
We set up our house as the base of operations. Our favorite concept pre-guidelines was a strange film about a person who travels to other parts of the world through dryers at a laundromat, but it would have been a huge stretch to make it fit any of the guidelines, so we shelved it. Quickly, we whittled the list of twenty down to two top contenders. It was either the ensemble cast caper film, or the Hitchcock-inspired noir. Over dinner, we thoroughly explored both options. At first, most felt strongly about the noir, then some waffled to favor the caper. It was a toss-up and the availability of a location would break the tie. Any caper needs a good-looking base of operations. We asked the on-duty manager of Cucina Tagliani (where we were eating) if would could use one of the rooms, and got referred to call the owner sometime tomorrow. Not very promising. So we headed downtown to the Hotel San Carlos, the only somewhat classic hotel in the valley. The Mae West suite was available the following day (for a change, of course), so that settled it: the noir it was!
In typical fashion, Brock hammered out six and a half pages as soon as we got home. The whole team did a quick read-through and I noted changes and took the wheel, working through the rewrites. It was 4:30am when we got down to bed, already ten hours of hard work into the challenge.
We rose at 10:00am for a final polish of the screenplay, then headed out with a huge shopping list of props and supplies for the shoot. Chic-Fil-A was the lunch spot.
It was 3:00pm by the time we arrived at the hotel. We were already quite behind schedule for shooting compared to last year. We loaded everything up into the room and started tearing it apart. Fortunately, it was a suite, so there was a spare room we could use to stage everything. The room itself was terrific. Very classic, stylish, and even colorful, which in and of itself decided a key stylistic element, whether to shoot in black and white or color. While black and white certainly would have fit well, the room was good enough to shoot in color and not be bland. I found myself wondering why we they didn't show us this room when we were shooting Leonardo (though that worked out just fine).
Collaboratively, we worked out the angles we would shoot and tested lighting setups and camera settings while everyone rehearsed. Around 4:30pm, we rolled the camera for the first time. We started with the hardest shots, at least for Micah. I don't think it's giving away too much to say that Micah played a dead body, and did it as good as anyone could have done. Scrubbing through the footage later, it was evident that he never moved a muscle for at least an hour and a half while we shot wide angle shots from various angles. Impressive!
Then, we moved on to close-ups, nearly at the time when we were wrapping up shooting last year. Close-ups of Gabe. Close-ups of Brock. When it came time for close-ups of Angie, she wasn't quite ready, so we took a break for a few minutes. Then we got the shots with Angie and the shots in the hallway.
Around 9:00pm (when we arrived at the hotel we swore we'd be done by 6:00pm), we finished the shots in the room and went into furious clean-up mode, moving all the furniture back where it belonged and packing up our stuff. The all-important establishing scene in the lobby was still unshot and certainly in doubt, since we didn't have permission to shoot there. We packed up the cars and let Angie work her magic on the front desk clerk, who played along with us. He played the role of the clerk, and in one take each we got his and Brock's shots, and agreed to dial in the dialog in post, since there was a very loud wedding reception going on right off the lobby (you can see someone doing the Macarena in the background of Brock's shots).
That was it, 10:00pm and we were done with the San Carlos and blazing home to capture the footage and get to work on editing. About midnight, the editing began, and went on until 4:30 once again. I set the alarm for 8:00am, got my three hours of sleep, and got back at the task. It went smoothly and steadily. We picked up close-ups of Brock and the opening scene dialog in the kitchen at some point during the day, and captured those as well, working them in and matching them to the lobby footage.
By 5:00pm, we had ourselves a good edit, but no music as of yet. We hit productiontrax.com and selected six pieces from Victor Spiegel, the same composer who wrote the music for Arizona Citizen. We worked those in and began to output the film, only to get a strange "Unknown Compile Error" from Premiere, something I have never seen before. The result was that I had to really compromise on quality just to get the footage out to tape. At 5:45pm, it was done, and Gabe, Brock, and Micah ran out the door to make it downtown by the 6:30pm deadline, which they made with fifteen minutes to spare, an improvement over last year.
It's crazy, but we got it done. Personally, I put a little over 40 hours into the film during the 48 hours. Only now can I relax and reflect a bit on it. Honestly, I don't have a bad word or regret about any of it. Probably a first. I was impressed all the way around with the writing, acting, and the shots we got.
Once again, we jumped into a whole new genre and really embraced it. It was last night that I picked up the book on Film Noir that I picked up in San Diego, and actually read through it for the first time in earnest. It was amazing how many of the themes, characters, and stylistic elements we incorporated into our film, though sheer historical film influence (it must have been since I've only seen a handful of actual these films): the low camera angles, hard lighting cutting through the scene, hard-boiled dialog, and ruthlessness of it all. We've got some lines in there that are sure to become instant MoC classics.
The screening is (assuming we make the Top 20) March 2nd. It'll be tough to wait that long, I'm really looking forward to it. Now onto making a 3-minute cut for the PFP challenge.